During the off-season, and the pre-season, the New York Jets had been crowned Super Bowl favorites. They had added key pieces to their squad, such as safety Brodney Pool, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, wide receiver Santonio Holmes and running back LaDainian Tomlinson. They had managed to extend contracts with franchise left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and All Pro center Nick Mangold, and they came to terms a little later with All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. This was a team that made it to the AFC Championship game the season before as young quarterback Mark Sanchez played not like a liability, but more like an asset. On paper, this was a great looking team.
Coach Rex Ryan brought plenty of swagger to this team- and why shouldn't this team shoot for the sky? They were the front runners in the AFC before the first game of the season as the coach boasted about the skill level of his squad. He made clear that the Jets were the team to beat and the players bought into that mind set. Throughout the HBO show Hard Knocks, the Jets trumpeted their skill and told the world that the league was theirs to lose.
Week 1 did not go according to plan as quarterback Mark Sanchez regressed to rookie year form and the Jets lost a close game to the Baltimore Ravens. However, the Jets didn't lose their swagger- they had lost by one point and had held a playoff team to 10 points. As soon as Sanchez found his form, the Jets would run the table and leave the league in their dust. Week 2 rolled around against the Patriots and the Jets put up 28 points and trounced the defending division champs. The Jets swagger grew; maybe this team is for real. The defense shut down the Patriots' potent offense and the offense put points on the board. Week 3, 4 and 5 were more of the same- all victories with great overall play. Everyone had bought into the Jets. They were for real.
However, their peak was short lived. Between Week 6 and 11, the Jets played 5 close games- four that involved last minute scores and one that was a shutout loss. Doubt crept into the minds of the Jets supporters as the team was not winning games with conviction. The Jets were barely getting through the schedule against teams like the Broncos, Lions, Browns and Texans. Good teams find ways to win. Great teams win games from the onset.
Week 12 seemed to put everything back on track for the Jets. They spanked the Cincinnati Bengals for Thanksgiving on a short week of preparation. The Jets stood at 9-2 as they entered the Week 13 match-up with the 9-2 Patriots. The Patriots had lost to the Cleveland Browns in Week 9, they had allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to score points in Week 10, they had almost allowed a Peyton Manning comeback in Week 11 and they let the Detroit Lions stick around until the 4th quarter in Week 12. The Patriots looked beatable and if the Jets were back on track, they could end the Patriots' home winning streak and win the division in the Razor.
Before the Week 13 game, Rex Ryan stated that he came to kick Bill Belichick's [expletive for "behind"]. The Jets had already handed the Patriots their rear ends in Week 2 and it seemed like the Jets were back on track. The Patriots, on the other hand, looked vulnerable on defense. The Jets were well within their right to boast their high expectations of destroying the Patriots- if only the Patriots weren't above simple words. We all know how Week 13 ended.
The Jets were unprepared for what occurred in Week 13. Their body language said everything- they were supposed to be beating the Patriots. They were supposed to be the ones fired up and doing the airplane celebration after big scores. Doubt crept into the minds of the Jets. After so many weeks of barely skating by, the Jets were taken to school and they managed to fail health class. The Jets learned they were beatable- and they could be beaten badly.
Week 14 didn't help their case when the Miami Dolphins walked into New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey and beat them 10-6. The Jets had been held to 9 points in two weeks. Their mystique was shattered and the Jets lost all of their swagger. No one was afraid of the Jets anymore. Their offense was streaky as Sanchez couldn't be counted on and LaDainian Tomlinson and the run game was getting slowed.
The Jets managed to stumble into the playoffs, finishing the season 2-3, with one of the victories against the Buffalo Bills as Sanchez sat on the bench. The offense remained cold as the Jets needed a great return off a game-winning Adam Vinatieri field goal to win back the game. The Jets could run the ball against the Colts' 25th ranked run defense (in both yards and yards/carry) [19th by Football Outsiders], but the passing game was hopeless against the Colts' 26th ranked pass defense. Mark Sanchez remained on his down swing as the Jets couldn't find their swagger.
Enter the grudge match against the Patriots. The Jets are once again pumping up the team in the media as players and coaches take shots at the Patriots. It's clear that the Jets are still trying to find their swagger that they lost in Week 13 and that they'll do and say anything to try and find their mojo. The Jets need to convince themselves that they can still beat the Patriots, even if the confidence is forced. No one is buying what the Jets are selling this time around. Sanchez plays on streaks and he's currently on a down streak. Everyone on the field will be remembering the Week 13 game in the Razor and if the Jets ever find themselves down a couple scores, a familiar feeling will creep into their minds that will cause the Jets to lose the game before the clock reaches 00:00. The Jets might continue to talk as their swagger diminishes, but they all will be experiencing the same feeling.